Gophers fall to Indiana in Big Ten tournament

Minnesota must now win five games in three days to claim the tournament.

Minnesota pitcher DJ Snelten pitches to Indiana May 23, 2013 at Target Field.

Emily Dunker

Minnesota pitcher DJ Snelten pitches to Indiana May 23, 2013 at Target Field.

Jace Frederick

The Gophers’ path to a Big Ten tournament title got much tougher Thursday night after a 4-2 loss to top-seeded Indiana at Target Field.

The Hoosiers scored three runs on three hard-hit doubles and a walk in the first inning off Minnesota starter DJ Snelten.

“We got behind the eight ball a little bit there in the first inning,” Gophers head coach John Anderson said. “We were fighting uphill the rest of the ballgame.”

Snelten gained control over his last five innings, striking out five while allowing four hits and one unearned run.

“I thought DJ settled down and kept us in the game,” Anderson said. “He did a nice job not letting them add on.”

But the early deficit proved too much for a Gophers offense that has struggled all season to produce runs. Minnesota mustered just five hits in seven innings off Indiana ace and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Aaron Slegers, who threw 41 of his first 54 pitches for strikes.

“[The 3-0 lead] is big for confidence and throwing strikes as a pitcher,” Slegers said. “You don’t need to throw around anyone. When you’ve got a lead to work with, you can just let them put the ball in play and pitch with some confidence.”

Minnesota appeared to seize momentum after scoring a run in the fifth, but Indiana answered with one of its own following an Andy Henkemeyer error in left field with two outs.

“We didn’t make a play — and it was a big play,” Anderson said. “Instead of it being 4-1, maybe it’s 3-1 in the eighth, we get back in there after scoring a run and have some jump in our offense and maybe we can continue it a little bit better.”

The Gophers built a threat in the top of the ninth on back-to-back two-out singles by first baseman Dan Olinger and shortstop Michael Handel, but the game ended when Indiana closer Ryan Halstead struck Larson out looking for his 10th save of the season.

Minnesota (31-21) now needs to win five games in three days to claim the tournament. That stretch starts Friday at noon with a rematch against Illinois. Alec Crawford will start the game for Minnesota.

Minnesota defeated Illinois 3-2 on a walk-off hit Wednesday to begin the tournament.

“We need to win two games in one day — it’s not impossible,” Anderson said. “If you look at our pitching numbers, they’ve been pretty good all year long. We’ve got some bullets left out there.”

The Gophers almost certainly need to win the Big Ten tournament to earn a bid in the NCAA tournament.